Water, Word and Witness

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Sermon based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Some historical accounts indicate that some of the early Christians practiced a Trinitarian form of baptism. The new convert was immersed three times, once each for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each of the Gospels treats the baptism of Jesus differently. Let us first look a little more closely at Jesus’ baptism. It’s interesting to note that each of the Gospels treats the baptism of Jesus differently. This morning I would like to share from the New International Version, a slightly different translation the New King James translation.

Reading first from the gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus replied, “Let it be so now, it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness. Then John consented.      (Matthew 3:13-15)

In Matthew, John the Baptist is seen questioning Jesus because he does not feel worthy to baptize Jesus. Jesus goes on to explain that baptism was important “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Reading from the gospel of Mark:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  (Mark 1:9-11)

In the gospel of Mark, there is not a birth narrative of Jesus; thus Mark begins with the work of John the Baptist. The baptism of Jesus serves to identify Jesus.

Reading from the gospel of John

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. (John 1:32-34)

In John’s gospel, the baptism is not actually told as it happens, rather is mentioned as John the Baptist talks about Jesus.

Luke’s account from our gospel reading today is also different as it reads:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

In Luke’s account we see that the baptism itself is not reported as it happens. Luke reports the events that followed Jesus’ baptism like the gospel of Mark does as it mentions God’s voice from heaven sharing how pleased God was. No matter which interpretation we study, they all reflect the fact that Jesus models obedience through baptism. In Luke, Jesus comes by the river and sees people being baptized. He moves into the water, and in obedience, is baptized with the others. One question often asked when studying these verses is why did Jesus get baptized in the first place? As the Son of God, Jesus did not need to offer evidence of repentance because he was without sin, but he gave us an example to follow. Baptism as we know is an outward sign of inward repentance. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation. It is through baptism that believers and their children are embodied in the covenant of grace and become a part of the fellowship of the Church. Jesus desired a public baptism to identify with those he came to serve and save. His baptism was an outward witness of his inner commitment.

Beyond baptism, this passage from Luke also communicates to us the importance of prayer. Jesus models for us the importance of prayer in the life of a Christian.  Verses 21 & 22 from Luke provide us this insight. These verses tell us that following Jesus’ baptism he was praying when the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and the voice from Heaven spoke to him. Jesus models for us the importance of connecting with God in prayer regularly. Throughout the gospel of Luke, Jesus prayed at significant moments in his ministry. Before calling his disciples, Jesus prayed. Before his arrest and trial, Jesus prayed. Before his death on the cross, Jesus was in prayer. Jesus made prayer an important part of his life. Jesus modeled the importance of continually seeking God’s guidance and direction in prayer. As I have shared before in sermons, throughout his ministry Jesus’ disciples had but one single request from Him on learning how to do something. This was learning how to pray. We can think of prayer as being at home and looking at a light switch on wall. We can flip this switch on the wall and the light will come on. When the room is dark, this doesn’t mean that power is not available to that room. It means we haven’t flipped the switch to release the power. God’s power is available to us. We simply have to flip the switch through prayer.

Jesus models for us the importance of staying in touch with the power source through his life of prayer. Through the life of Jesus we also are inspired to become a witness.  After Jesus was baptized, He began his public ministry. He did not wait around for an invitation; he went straight to work doing what God had sent Him to do. As we have entered a new year together, we should all strive to do more in ministry and God’s Kingdom. As we think of the task ahead, as we strive to follow our mission statement, I believe an appropriate scripture passage for us to follow is one that also comes from the gospel of Luke. In the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus outlines to his disciples some rules of discipleship. Among the most powerful instruction from Jesus to his disciples came in these words when he said:

(Jesus said,) “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. Luke 12:48

Those words from Luke offer us a warning and promise. This verse reminds us that the laws of responsibility and reward apply in our relationship to God just as in other relationships in our lives too. All of us in some way are role models for someone else. The late John Wooden, basketball coach for many years at UCLA once said the following in his book entitled, A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court: “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating…too often people neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.”

Sometimes it is difficult for us to remember that someone is always watching us. This someone may be a friend or relative who is trying to justify his or her behavior by modeling our behavior and actions. It may be our children who are watching how we treat those we care for in life. Certainly in our life as followers of Christ we are encouraged to take that first step ofobedience in faith through our baptism.  For some of us, our parents brought us as infants, for others at the point of their confirmation as a youth and for still others like Jesus himself, we were baptized as adults. Beyond baptism each of us are encouraged to pray for God’s guidance in our lives. In both acts as demonstrated in our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus shows us the importance of getting off our knees in prayer and getting on our feet to begin the task of ministry. We are all called upon to serve God’s Kingdom and to seek God’s direction and guidance. Together we place our faith and trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow and into eternity.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

January 13, 2019

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